Skip to Content
Global Drylands Center news

Global Drylands Center news

Global Drylands Center news

Researchers working to restore desert's vital 'biocrust'

Arizona Republic | December 15, 2020

Ferran Garcia-Pichel, a member of the Global Dryland Center's executive committee board, is one of many researchers volunteering to study and resore biocrust in the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy. This work was the focus of an article in the Arizona Republic, "How researchers hope to preserve and restore 'biocrust,' the desert's protective skin."

Biocrust stabilizes desert soil and protects it from erosion. "If there is no crust, nothing protects the soil. So with any amount of storm or wind, you'll get anything from sun devils to to big haboobs," Garcia-Pichel said in the article. Read more about biocrust and its importance in the Arizona Republic.

GDC executive board member Ferran Garcia-Pichel named Regents Professor

ASU Now | November 23, 2020

Ferran Garcia-Pichel, the Virginia M. Ullman Professor of the Environment in the School of Life Sciences, is one of four new Regents Professors at Arizona State University. Garcia-Pinchel is on the executive committee of the Global Drylands Center.

Garcia-Pichel's discoveries on the roles that microbes play in the environment are considered pioneering and transdisciplinary in his field. His research has enabled convergence of different disciplines combining approaches from biogeochemistry, geomicrobiology and global-change biology, thus opening up new frontiers of research. His research provided much of the most important knowledge of microbial ecology including the ecological and genetic diversity of the cyanobacteria, perhaps the most essential bacteria on the planet. His discoveries are shaping our understanding of the deep history of Earth from deserts to oceans. Ecological research is only beginning to come to grips with some of Garcia-Pichel's newest discoveries.

Continue Reading

Con Ciencia en las Américas seminar series

November 20, 2020

Watch a new Spanish language seminar series, Con Ciencia En Las Américas, organized by early-career researchers at Stanford University and the University of Santiago in Chile. The goal of Con Ciencia En Las Américas is to highlight Latin American scholars, create a broader community of scholars across the Americas, and provide Spanish language science content for a broad audience.

In this episode from October 28, 2020, Osvaldo Sala talks to Esteban Jobbágy and moderator Guadalupe Carrillo about the topic: "From forests to agricultural land: How human intervention affects the biodiversity of arid and semi-arid ecosystems."

ASU professor receives prestigious award for mentoring, interdisciplinary research

September 24, 2020

Man wearing lab coat looks into microscopeFerran Garcia-Pichel, Arizona State University professor and researcher, has been awarded the 2021 D.C. White Award by the American Society for Microbiology.

The American Society for Microbiology is one of the largest professional societies dedicated to the life sciences and is composed of 30,000 scientists and health practitioners.

The award recognizes distinguished accomplishments in both interdisciplinary research and mentoring. It was created in honor of David C. White, a well-known microbial ecologist widely recognized as a leader in interdisciplinary science, and for his dedicated and inspiring work as a mentor and teacher.

Continue Reading

New study shows soil as significant carbon sequestration driver

ASU Now | September 17, 2020

rich soil with single sprout illuminated in sunlightAs harmful atmospheric carbon dioxide levels continue to increase, understanding the planetary carbon balance has become the single most important scientific question.

A new report by two leading ecological scientists at Arizona State University quantified the global soil carbon sequestered by roots plus the amount leached into the soil. They revealed that climate and land-use are major influencers of belowground carbon sequestration. The study, “Global patterns and climatic controls of belowground net carbon fixation,” also found that the amount of carbon sequestered belowground changes with precipitation but its effect varies among large vegetation types.

Continue Reading

Vegetation shifts can outweigh climate change in desert rangelands

ASU Now | May 18, 2020

Grasslands across the globe, which support the majority of the world’s grazing animals, have been transitioning to shrub lands in a process that scientists call “woody plant encroachment.”

Managed grazing of drylands is the most extensive form of land use on the planet, which has led to widespread efforts to reverse this trend and restore grass cover.

Until now, researchers have thought that because woody plants like trees and shrubs have deeper roots than grass, woody plant encroachment resulted in less water entering streams and groundwater aquifers. This was because scientists typically studied the effect the grassland shift toward shrubs has on water resources on flat ground.

Continue Reading

Global Drylands Center honors Professor Paul Hirt

April 15, 2020

Portrait of Paul HirtThe Global Drylands Center honors Professor Paul Hirt’s service as a member of the GDC Executive Board since its inception in 2017. Following 33 years of his academic career, with 16 of those years at Arizona State University, Professor Hirt will be retiring at the end of the Spring 2020 semester.

Paul Hirt is a historian specializing in the American West, environmental history, environmental policy and sustainability studies. Hirt's publications include a monograph on the history of electric power in the U.S. Northwest and British Columbia, titled "The Wired Northwest" (Univ Press of Kansas, 2012). He also published a history of national forest management since WWII ("A Conspiracy of Optimism," 1994), and edited two collections of essays on Northwest history ("Terra Pacifica," 1998 and "Northwest Lands, Northwest Peoples," 1999). Hirt has also authored more than two dozen articles and book chapters on environmental and western history and policy. His current research projects include collaborative interdisciplinary research on energy transitions, water use and conservation, urban growth and sustainability in southern Arizona, and adaptive management in the Colorado River Basin.

Continue Reading

COVID-19: The ultimate stress test for our global futures

March 31, 2020

In response to the COVID-19 virus that has made a sudden, profound global impact, Dr. Osvaldo Sala along with other scholars within the Global Futures Laboratory at Arizona State University have co-authored their most recent article "COVID-19: The Ultimate Stress Test for Our Global Futures." This article details the catastrophic consequences from lack of preparedness of the COVID-19 pandemic and provides solutions on how to effectively move forward from this crisis and how to minimize the devastating effects from future outbreaks.

Global Drylands Center annual newsletter

December 13, 2019

The Global Drylands Center recently published its annual newsletter. The newsletter contains important and exciting news about a recent trip with Global Drylands Center associates to the Jornada Experimental Station in Las Cruces, New Mexico. The purpose of this trip was to highlight research and educational activities of the Global Drylands Center. Specifically, we demonstrated rainfall manipulation experiments and discussed in the field major research findings. Regarding educational activities, we met with Stephanie Bestelmeyer who is the Director of the Asombro Institute for Science Education, which is a leader institution in the field of informal environmental education.

Learn more details and other opportunities within the 2019 Global Drylands Center Annual Newsletter (PDF).

How to preserve commodities in the face of climate change

September 26, 2019

Amazon forest fireGlobal outrage over the fires in the Amazon has once again generated a debate about how to take care of our environment. In analyzing the causes of the fires, experts point their fingers at illegal deforestation by individuals and organizations that want to exploit the forest for agriculture, mining and logging.

However, in certain countries such as Argentina, those very same industries (agriculture, mining and logging) are presented as a source of economic salvation. Is it possible to reconcile both worlds or does nature facing a losing battle? 

Continue Reading

New research by ASU professor furthers understanding of dryland litter cycles

September 11, 2019

Heather ThroopArizona State University professor Heather Throop penned a new research article that advances our understanding of dryland litter cycles. Drylands are arid ecosystems characterized by a lack of water. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, drylands  "have been shaped by a combination of low precipitation, droughts and heat waves."

Litter in this case refers to parts of plants that have detached and fallen to the ground. A litter cycle is then the journey of litter from its location on the ground, its movement by horizontal or vertical vectors (such as water), and its eventual decomposition in the same or a secondary location. The litter decomposition rates in drylands are often underpredicted, resulting in a key knowledge gap that is important to address because litter decomposition has a significant influence on ecosystem properties. 

Continue Reading

ASU professors named 2019 American Geophysical Union Fellows

August 30, 2019

Osvaldo SalaArizona State University professors Osvaldo Sala, a drylands researcher and Regents Professor in the School of Life Sciences, and Meenakshi Wadhwa, a cosmochemistry expert and the new director of ASU's School of Earth and Space Exploration, have been elected to the 2019 class of the American Geophysical Union Fellows. The election is an honor just 0.1% of AGU members in any given year enjoy. To be elected is a recognition of “attaining scientific eminence through achievements in research, as demonstrated by a breakthrough or discovery, innovation in science or the development of methods and instruments, or sustained impact," according to the AGU.

Continue Reading

Sala elected president of the Ecological Society of America

August 17, 2019

Osvaldo SalaOsvaldo Sala, a Regents and Foundation Professor at Arizona State University and a Distinguished Sustainability Scientist in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, was elected on August 16 as president of the Ecological Society of America. Elected by ESA members during the society’s annual meeting in Louisville, Kentucky, Sala will be president for a one-year term that ends in 2020. He is the first Hispanic person to serve as president in the organization's century-long history.

Continue Reading

When roundworms lose, carbon emissions rise

June 10, 2019

Sala PNAS Nematode Experiment full imageSoil food webs play a key role in supporting grassland ecosystems, which cover about one-quarter of the land on Earth. Climate change poses a threat to these environments, partly because of the uncertainty of extremes in rainfall, which is projected to increase.

To learn more about the effects of these extreme events, a team of soil and plant ecologists, supported by funding from the National Science Foundation, studied nematodes, which play a key role in carbon and nutrient cycling and decomposition in soil.

Principal Investigator Osvaldo Sala is founding director of the Global Drylands Center at Arizona State University. We asked him about the study, out June 10, 2019, in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Continue Reading

NSF grant boosts student-driven ecological research

June 7, 2019

Arizona State University Professors Heather Throop and Osvaldo Sala have been awarded an International Research Experiences for Students (IRES) grant from The National Science Foundation of approximately $294,000. The grant, initiated under the auspices of the Global Drylands Center (GDC), will fund ecological research projects led by the collaborative effort of GDC and the Gobabeb Training and Research Center in Namibia.

IRES supports research for U.S. students contributing to the development of a diverse and globally engaged workforce. Student-driven projects will explore how broad-scale climate patterns and local-scale factors (e.g. soil properties) interact to control dryland ecological processes.

GDC map
Distribution of global drylands (delineated by dashed lines) and the number of peer-reviewed studies on dryland ecology by country (modified from Maestre et al. 2012). Namibia is located in the red circle.

Continue Reading

Desert ecologist earns top faculty honor

View Source | February 8, 2019

Osvaldo Sala Osvaldo Sala, an ecologist and distinguished sustainability scientist in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, was named a Regents' Professor at Arizona State University. To be awarded the distinction, scholars must be full professors, with outstanding achievements in their fields, who are nationally and internationally recognized by their peers.

Sala has spent more than 35 years studying the driest places on Earth: the Patagonian steppe, the annual grasslands of California, the Kalahari in southern Africa, the Loess Plateau in China and the Chihuahuan Desert in New Mexico. His publications are among the most cited in the fields of ecology, sustainability and biology. He has more than 200 publications and 40,000 citations. Sala is also the founding director of the Global Drylands Center.

Continue Reading

Newly funded grant will address aridity effects on nutrient cycles

December 14, 2018

Osvaldo-Sala-Blue-ShirtGlobal Drylands Center director Osvaldo Sala is part of a research team that recently garnered funding from the Australian Research Council. The project, entitled “Biogeochemical mismatches: Decoupling of carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus cycles during drought,” is led by researcher Uffe Nielsen, a colleague of Sala Lab based at Western Sydney University.

Drought modifies carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus cycles with implications for plant growth and productivity. Biogeochemical decoupling occurs during drought due to differential impacts of water availability on these nutrients, resulting in an imbalanced nutrient supply for plants. The aim of this project is to identify the tipping points where drought causes biogeochemical decoupling and determine the underlying biological mechanisms. To date, no systematic approach to generalizing shifts in C, N and P due to drought impacts across aridity gradients exists.

Continue Reading

3 ASU sustainability scientists honored with Regents' Professor title

View Source | November 19, 2018

Hayden OverheadRegents’ Professors are the elite of the academic world. To be awarded the distinction, scholars must be full professors, with outstanding achievements in their fields, who are nationally and internationally recognized by their peers.

No more than 3 percent of all faculty at Arizona State University carry the distinction.

This year, four ASU faculty members are being recognized as Regents’ Professors. Three of these professors are sustainability scientists in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability: Osvaldo Sala, Donald Fixico and Stewart Fotheringham . Let's meet them.

Continue Reading

Global Drylands Center director recognized for contributions to ecology

November 8, 2018

Argentina Meeting group pic Rachel TateOsvaldo Sala, distinguished sustainability scientist and founding director of the Global Drylands Center at Arizona State University, has been named an honorary member of the Asociación Argentina de Ecología (AsAE).

Honorary members are recognized for their extraordinary contribution to ecology as a science and to the functioning of AsAE. Sala was recognized at the XXVIII Reunión Argentina de Ecología in October in the city of Mar del Plata. The meeting, held biennially and organized by AsAE, included a symposium honoring Sala’s research legacy and commemorating the thirtieth anniversary of his 1988 seminal paper “Primary Production of the Central Grassland Region of the United States."

According to the organization's website, AsAE is an association that “brings together researchers, professors, fellows, professionals and students from all branches of environmental science." A primary role for AsAE is to promote Argentine ecological research. The association also addresses the application of ecology to environmental problems and contributes to the management of sustainable resources.

Continue Reading